Call me Grant. Some years ago, never mind how long precisely, I though I would drive about a little, and see the sandy part of the world. Since deciding to pursue our goal of driving to Brazil for the World Cup, David and I realized that, having very little to no experience ACTUALLY driving through foreign countries and living out of our car, we needed to go on a practice trip. With the summer fast approaching, the only time we could both manage to have some free time for a trip like this was the week and a half after New Years Day and David heading back to Boston for school and me going back to work. We left for Mexico on Thursday, January 2nd at 10:00 pm.
We arrived some 24 hours later in Laredo, TX, where we camped at the Lake Casa Blanca State Park. We arrived after the park had closed for the night, but we called ahead and they graciously left us the code to the gate.
After a quick but much needed night of sleep, we woke up early the next morning and headed for the Mexican border. Laredo has two bridges into Nuevo Laredo in Mexico, but only Bridge II has the aduana (customs) and facilities to import your vehicle. Traffic coming into the United States was already backed up for what looked like miles, but going the other direction was quick and easy. An official glanced into the rear, asked about our cooler, then shrugged and waved us on. We were in Mexico! To travel outside the Border Zone (some 20 km’s from the border), though, and bring our car into the country, we had to go to the customs building and obtain our tourist visas and a temporary import permit for the Land Cruiser. Upon accomplishing this, we set off on the toll highway for Monterrey.
Driving through the northern mainland of Mexico was very similar to how we would find driving through the Baja. Large town or city, 100+ miles of emptiness and mountains, another large town or city. This is not to say the drive wasn’t interesting. Our first taste of mountains and desert was very pretty, and when the highways would hit the cities, we inevitably would get lost trying to find our way to where they started again on the other side (roads signs virtually disappeared once we left the border areas). In the city of Torreon, especially, we spend a good 45 minutes driving though the backroads and poorer areas until we found a local bus that eventually led us back to the highway.
We arrived in the coastal city of Mazatlan under the cover of darkness, and found our hotel (the only one we stayed in on the entire journey!) and a safe place to park. Although we wouldn’t appreciate it until the morning, we stayed at a place called Hotel La Siesta and paid $50 for an oceanfront room. We ate at a small cafe nearby where a local band was playing. I tried to practice my Spanish, we each drank a few of the most refreshing Pacificos I have ever tasted, and we promptly went to sleep.
The next morning, we awoke to an awesome view and leisurely got up and loaded up the car. I had gotten very sunburned driving the previous day (the entire left-hand side of my body), so we both put on sunscreen and started meandering northward towards the town of Topolobampo, where that night we were getting on a ferry and heading to the Baja. As we headed north out of Mazatlan, we realized that the town is actually a pretty major tourist destination! About a mile from our aging, two story hotel, we began encountering highrise luxury resorts and gringos in flip flops. Driving in at night, we never would have noticed if we had driven south out of the city that morning.
After a relatively quick (4.5 hour) drive, we arrived in Topolobampo mid-afternoon. I was a little apprehensive about our ferry tickets, and thankfully David was willing to accommodate us getting to the port 6 hours early for the estimated 11:00 pm departure time without complaining too much. There was a little confusion as to what we were supposed to do with our car, but thankfully we met a nice retired Canadian couple who helped translate for us. It turns out, you have to get your car weighed and measured before they can validate your ticket. The couple were taking 6 months and driving their full-sized RV up the Baja and back to Canada. We doubled back to town after verifying our tickets and found a local food shack where we ate delicious shrimp and marlin quesadillas, and headed back to the port to wait.
We eventually loaded onto the massive ferry, and after a surprisingly above average included meal onboard, we found some recliners and slept fitfully for a few hours before arriving in La Paz at around 7 am. Once there, we were only a long line of cars and a military checkpoint away from the Mexican Baja!
Part II: La Paz to Loreto
[future links to parts 3 and 4]